Having passed through the Western Arctic and its ice fields much earlier in the season than we had hoped or expected, and with the ice situation still unfavourable in the Eastern Arctic, we had the luxury of slowing down and turn the next stage of our voyage into a leisurely cruise.
My crew were keen to see some Arctic wildlife but apart from some birds fishing among the ice, a few seals and a couple of whales, the most exciting so far was this falcon dive-bombing us as we walked on Herschel Island.
A few days before our arrival, a ranger had shot this grizzly bear, a victim of climate change as he had strayed far beyond his usual habitat and had swum from the mainland to Herschel Island in search of food.
Nor were my crew impressed with this cute ground squirrel who looked just as puzzled at seeing these large animals walking on their hind legs just like him.
From Herschel Island we sailed due east across the shallow Beluga Bay, staying for a long time in water never deeper than 5 metres… and all we saw were some puffins diving quickly as they saw us approach. On arrival at Tuk (as everyone refers to it) we tied up to a floating pontoon and walked to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police station to complete clearance formalities into Canada.
The spread out settlement of about 900 inhabitants is an important supply centre for Arctic Canada. It also marks the very end of the Trans-Canadian Highway, a route that starts in faraway Newfoundland and crosses the entire continent to reach this remotest of places.
Most houses that we passed seemed to be pre-fabricated one-family units that were set up by the Canadian government to house the native population in such urban centres provided with medical facilities, schools and airport.
Sailing boats are quite a rarity in the Arctic and we have not seen a single one since we had left Dutch Harbor. Interested to see the boat that had brought us all the way to Tuk, Kyle Macdonald and Joe Fraser joined us for coffee onboard Aventura. They are on two-year postings, Kyle being single,while Joe is accompanied by his wife and young daughter. In spite of some drawbacks they both enjoy living and working in the Arctic and neither seemed bothered by the nine-months long dark cold winters.
We could not have picked a better place to dock, as we were right next to the fuel station and supermarket. As we needed to take on a large amount of fuel, within minutes of our arrival a tanker with a long hose was sent down to fill our tanks.
Tuk may look and feel like the end of the world but the Northern supermarket was surprisingly well stocked, and there was a good selection of fresh fruit and vegetables. Even bananas… at ten dollars a kilo. You want bananas at 70 degrees north? You pay the price.
In spite of the warm welcome from Kyle and Joe, Tuk had not been what we had expected from a native Inuvialuit settlement, so we took their advice and made a 200 miles detour to Ulukhaktok, on Victoria Island, being assured that it was indeed a more traditional settlement. We had light winds on the way and after dinner watched a film with Anthony Hopkins “The fastest Indian in the world” (not a native Indian, but Indian, the make of the motorcycle ridden by a speed addict Kiwi biker). An excellent film, and the audience were even served popcorn… after this photo was taken.